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Jul 7, 2010 11:08 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

"Love whisperer" takes on shelter's toughest cases

Jul 7, 2010 11:08 AM

HAMPTON BAYS—Diamond has good reason to distrust human beings.

The 3-year-old pit bull was found limping on a local road last month, malnourished, with a bullet lodged in one of her hind legs, Even though her wounds have healed, the emotional damage she suffered colors her behavior.

At the Southampton Town Animal Shelter in Hampton Bays, where she now lives, Diamond tends to tremble and tuck her tail between her legs when people get close—a habit that will likely stand in the way of her adoption.

Enter Carole Taylor.

The 71-year-old from Water Mill works with Diamond and other “special needs” dogs in a tiny toy-filled trailer behind the shelter that she calls the “dog house.” There, she massages them, converses with them, introduces them to the piano sonatas of Chopin and Beethoven and—in extreme cases—lights lavender-scented candles.

She indulges the dogs, too, winning them over with slices of cheese and giving them free reign to splay across a little couch in her office.

Her brand of therapy carries a simple message: maybe people aren’t so bad after all.

“What we want to do with every dog in here is deal with whatever problems they have to make them more adoptable,” she said.

Ms. Taylor started out treating people and graduated to dogs. She was once chief of physical therapy at Metropolitan Hospital Center in New York for five years in the 1960s.

“I’m good at touching people emotionally and it carries over to the dogs,” she said.

Ms. Taylor approached the shelter about launching the special needs program in January, shortly after the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation took over the facility from Southampton Town—and the new management, led by philanthropist Susan Allen, quickly signed on. Since then, Ms. Taylor said, people have adopted some 39 of her canine patients, after she guided them through a wide range of physical and emotional impairments. She was quick to credit the shelter staff at large with any success that her program has seen.

Ms. Taylor, who worked most recently as a restaurant developer before she retired, works four days a week in the dog house, spending the rest of the week at a second home in Brooklyn. She volunteers her time, as do her handful of assistants, so the program comes at no cost to the shelter.

And the dog house churns out happier, healthier potential pets, according to shelter officials.

“They’re much more socialized and trusting after being with her,” said Ms. Allen, referring to Ms. Taylor. “She’s always coming up with new ideas for things to do. She’s a dynamo.”

But one of Ms. Taylor’s patients, Phoenix, brings the term “dynamo” to a new level.

The approximately 2-year-old mutt—possibly of Rhodesian ridgeback and American bulldog descent—came to the shelter earlier this year, after his former family couldn’t afford him anymore, Ms. Taylor said. When she entered Phoenix’s kennel at the shelter one day in June to take him out for a treatment session, the dog skittered around, his tongue lolling in manic excitement. Ms. Taylor stood patiently as Phoenix jumped up and pawed her, again and again.

“He’s so hyper that if someone wanted to adopt him, they’d be intimidated by him,” Ms. Taylor said.

Once in the dog house, Ms. Taylor sat on the floor and waited for her patient to “defuse.” After he mellowed out a little, Ms. Taylor and trainer Kathy Ferraro tried to coax Phoenix with treats onto a treadmill so he could burn off some energy—but he just ate the bait without setting foot on the device.

But after a few minutes of massage and soothing words from Ms. Taylor, Phoenix was a different dog. He flopped over on his side, apparently pacified.

“She loves them to death,” Ms. Ferraro said of Ms. Taylor and her relationship with her furry patients. “She’s very good at it. She’s a love whisperer, really.”

Later that day, Ms. Taylor would work her magic again on Bella, a 16-month-old shepherd mix that came to the shelter in June because she was too much of a handful for her previous owners. Just days earlier, the black and brown dog was unapproachable, cowering and growling at shelter staff from her kennel, Ms. Taylor said.

But after working with Ms. Taylor for two days, she was able to sit in relative ease next to her therapist on a couch—and even curl up. The idea is that, just maybe, Bella could get used to this.

The shelter is currently home to about 50 dogs and almost twice as many cats, according to Ms. Allen. Her foundation’s goal is to find caring homes for all of them—even those that come in with shy or quirky demeanors.

“I think that some dogs are just born that way, but I think there is abuse too in some of it,” Ms. Allen said. “It’s a hard battle when they’re really shy, but they do come around. Some a lot faster than others.”

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What a nice lady, giving of herself for these poor animals. Good Job!
By reg rep (408), Southampton on Jul 14, 10 7:31 PM
3 members liked this comment
This shelter keeps getting better and better - thank God!
By barnbabe (64), westhampton beach on Jul 15, 10 9:44 AM
Nice story- thanks for shedding some light on the shelter and hopefully helping to get more animals into loving homes.
By Hillsnbells (43), Southampton on Jul 15, 10 4:14 PM
I tried to think so, but i found it was not as the same in the actual process. As you mentioned, I still have doubts, but really thank you for sharing!

By nike-shoes (2), CITY on Jul 16, 10 10:32 PM